PR people must ease the way, not get in the way - Andrew Arbuckle

A former colleague did not have a high opinion of those working in public relations. Rather sarcastically he said their purpose in life seemed to be to stop journalists getting to the truth. But Joe was always a “black or white” man with no room for any shades of grey.

As someone who spent a little spell of my life promoting products and events on behalf of clients, I do not subscribe to that view. All I will admit to is that, after finding out that I was unable to work up a passion for promoting a silage additive or extolling the merits of a lamb wormer, I shifted back to journalism. However, I did enjoy some of the other aspects of PR work that are not so high profile. One of these being damage limitation, where a difficult decision has to be made, and achieved without upsetting the known – or even the unknown – world.

Despite public relations people being relatively recent arrivals on the farming scene, these media managers, as they are called, are now ubiquitous, with every organisation feeling the need to employ such people.

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The problem with having PR people is that some organisations do not seem able to use them for maximum benefit. Take, for example, the red meat promotional body Quality Meat Scotland. Look at the poor publicity the company has endured in recent times, culminating in a producers’ protest meeting a couple of months ago.

E-tickets are needed for entry to this year's Highland Show (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Farmers at the meeting moaned about the loss of a premium on their beef and they complained about the increased paperwork with which they now had to cope. And yet there was no one from QMS to respond to these and other issues which riled their members.

Was the organisation not aware of these grumbles? Why did it not despatch its PR people to explain why things were the way they were? Did the management not think the best way of dealing with problems was meeting them head on?

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And that is why I think one of the most positive pieces of news this past week was the announcement the organisation was “Back with a Bang”.

Chairman Kate Rowell and newly appointed chief executive Sarah Miller announced there would be more face-to-face meetings with producers. These meetings with the men and women who supply the beef and lamb were described as “crucial”. No doubt, they will be supported by their media experts as they fill the communication gap or chasm that has been allowed to grow in the past couple of years.

Another organisation that has access to an excellent public relations company but does not seem to utilise it to maximum effect in order to spread their messages is the Highland Show management.

This year’s show will be the first to require visitors to have entrance and car parking tickets. For many regulars this demand has come as a bit of a shock, to put it mildly. Unhappy punters said they preferred the old system where they looked out of their bedroom window in the morning and, only then, decided if it was a day for clipping the sheep, or for making hay or for heading off to Ingliston and meeting up with old friends.

Other unhappy customers were those who pointed out that the broadband in their area was, despite claims by generations of politicians, as slow as a tranquillised snail climbing across a window pane and the Show would be over before the electronic tickets could be printed.

Now all this grief might have been avoided, or at least minimised, if the organisers had asked the aforementioned excellent PR firm how best to mitigate the consequences of a decision which has left some of the show directors very unhappy. Rather belatedly, the Society is now trumpeting their response to the move to electronic ticketing which they describe as easy to use, simple and efficient. All true provided you have good wi-fi and also provided you can use it.

Media people have their uses and providing they do not include obfuscating news, tardy responses and jargon-laden language with which I am unfamiliar and concentrate instead on other aspects of their work, I am content.

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